Russia’s chess federation has completed its historic switch to Asia in a move branded by the European Chess Union as a “shameful day” for the game.
The Asian Chess Federation formally adopted the Chess Federation of Russia into its ranks at a meeting of its General Assembly in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The move had already been pre-approved by FIDE, the world governing body.
Russian chess federation is officially Asian now!
— Mohamed Al-Mudahka (@almodiahki) February 28, 2023
It ends a year of conflict between the RCF and the ECU since the chess world was thrown into turmoil when Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
The ECU and the RCF have been at each others’ throats since the ECU, under strong pressure from the Ukraine Chess Federation and other European federations, responded to the invasion by condemning Russia’s actions.
Then on March 3, after an extraordinary meeting of the board, the ECU suspended the Russian federation along with its Belarusian equivalent. Meanwhile, RCF president Andrey Filatov made it clear that Russia intended to leave.
Quoted on the Ruchess.ru website, the official mouthpiece of the RCF, Filatov said on Tuesday: “A historic event took place today: for the first time a chess federation, one of the strongest in the world, moved from one continent to another.
“We are grateful to the delegates of the ACF Continental Assembly for supporting our transition to the ACF with a majority vote. This speaks, on the one hand, of trust in us, and on the other hand, of the well-done work of our federation.
“I look forward to further fruitful cooperation, the participation of Russian teams in the continental championship and the holding of Asian competitions on the territory of Russia, which has successfully held tournaments of the highest level many times and has all the necessary infrastructure for this.”
Early reports suggest 29 delegates voted for the resolution, one against and six abstained. It is unclear which federation voted against.
But the decision will no doubt have wide-ranging effects on Russian players who will no longer be eligible to play in ECU events. Russians who wish to compete in Europe will now have to take the difficult step of abandoning their home country and changing federation.
Currently, Russia has 190 grandmasters listed by FIDE, the most of any country in the world, and an influx of highly-rated Russian grandmasters may also affect the chances of Asian players potentially making it into the World Championship cycle.
As ECU Vice President Malcolm Pein pointed out, this could be of particular concern to the up-and-coming Indian and Chinese federations, which both have rich crops of young talent and are aiming to produce a world title challenger.
IM Pein, the English Chess Federation’s International Director, said: “There are three points to take from this. Firstly, this is a shameful day for chess. We are the first sport to see its governing body facilitate its federation in Russia to evade sanctions by switching to Asia.
“Secondly, it is now essential to protect those Russian players who wish to continue to play under the aegis of the European Chess Union. The European Chess Union has taken steps to ensure that will happen, lobbying hard for the waiving of transfer fees, which were in any case ridiculous.
“Thirdly, it is quite surprising that Indian and the Chinese federations agreed to this switch by the RCF, if they have (I have not seen the results of the vote), because it will lead to increased competition and therefore reduced opportunities for their players to qualify for places in the World Championship cycle, unless changes are made to it.
“FIDE is clearly out of step with the International Olympic Committee on this matter and once again the organization looks like a toy in a soft power game where the moves are directed by the Kremlin.”
IM Pein’s reaction was echoed on Twitter by GM Peter Heine Nielsen, World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s trainer and a frequent critic of Russia’s influence in chess.
Embarrassing, but expected.
Chess becomes the first sport allowing Russia to switch from Europe to Asia, and thus attempt to avoid sanctions. https://t.co/FhFkT9f9Zz
— Peter Heine Nielsen (@PHChess) February 28, 2023
Despite the switch, which takes effect immediately, FIDE previously announced a revision of its “zones” will not take effect until May 1. Russia will be renamed Zone 3.8, as part of Asia.
Russian players are also still expected to play in the European Individual Chess Championship 2023 under a FIDE flag. The event is due to take place in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia, on March 2.
The European Women’s Individual Chess Championship 2023 in Petrovac, Montenegro, on March 17 is also expected to continue with Russian players involved.
Several Russians are listed in the open event, including GMs Alexandr Predke, Andrey Esipenko and Alexey Sarana. In the Women’s event, GM Valentina Gunina is the third seed.
Whether Russian players will be able to play in this year’s Asian Continental Championships has not been confirmed. The event will take place in Kazakhstan, but there is no date set yet in FIDE’s calendar.